Right training, 'deep skills' needed for new jobs: Minister

Apprenticeship schemes one way to keep young people's skills relevant

AS SINGAPORE adds more university places and looks at improving its polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education, it is equally important that education arms young people with the right skills to take on the new and diverse jobs thrown up by a vibrant economy.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who led a delegation from his ministry on a study trip to Norway and the Netherlands last week, said that the well-run apprenticeship schemes in the two countries, with many companies accredited as training partners to technical colleges, were one way of keeping skills relevant.

"The recession has driven home the same important message to the European countries that, while they continue to develop their young people through education, they must ensure that they have the relevant skills to seize the jobs that are in demand by the economy," he said, speaking to reporters on Friday after visiting the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

During the trip, the Singapore delegates visited universities and technical colleges, as well as companies involved in training technical college students.

Companies can provide in-house training for students as well as workers, and smaller firms could band together to provide training, said Mr Heng.

These ideas are being looked into by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (Aspire) committee, which will release its report later this year.

Related agencies are also studying how employers can be encouraged to take on a bigger role in training, he added.

Mr Heng pointed out that the Singapore education system is already on track in many areas.

This includes building a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy, emphasising mathematics, English and second languages, and helping students who are lagging behind through schemes such as the Learning Support Programme.

The push for "stem" subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - will also continue, he added, and schools will encourage students to pursue these disciplines at post-secondary and tertiary levels.

"Every sector of the economy will be transformed by technology," said Mr Heng, pointing to the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, which is part of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, as an example.

There, students use scans and 3-D body modelling to take precise body measurements of models to design clothes.

Mr Heng also said that the Government needs to set up better mechanisms, to help those already working to move from vulnerable sectors to other industries where there are jobs.

A "ladder of skills" framework, showing new entrants how they can build up their skills and move up, could also be useful.

For example, those new to the pre-school sector could build up their qualifications and skills and go on to become master teachers, he said.

And just like in Norway and the Netherlands, where students prefer the academic over the technical route, young people in Singapore too need to be persuaded to see the value of developing "deep skills" in a particular area.

"Employers too must value those skills instead of just credentials," Mr Heng stressed.

When a young person has good grounding in literacy and numeracy as well as domain-specific skills, he will have good job prospects in the new economy, and the ability to upgrade and shift careers if necessary, he said.

sandra@sph.com.sg